The Sacred Workplace (Ephesians Sermon 44 of 54)
July 31, 2016 | Andy Davis
Works of the Flesh, External Journey, Evangelism, Judgement Day, Persecution, Trials, Heaven, Judgment, Justice of God, Government & Authority
Amen. Well this morning as I came to First Baptist Church, 414 Cleveland Street, I came to this place of worship, the sanctuary, which has been such a big part of my life. I was thinking as I walked in here about places of worship that I've been at around the world, and I've had the privilege of being in sacred spaces all over the world, and I've seen a lot of them in Japan, I've seen them in the Orient in India. I've seen them in Kathmandu and Nepal, I've seen them in New England, where I grew up. Probably the most awesome sacred space I've ever seen was Saint Vitus Cathedral in Prague, which was started in 1344, it took 600 years to complete. And I'll just never forget just being in there, and just the soaring sense of grandeur, the greatness of the place, and just how much effort went in over the years to make that sacred space the amazing place that it was. I've been in a Shinto shrine in Osaka that was almost a thousand years old. I remember thinking of the antiquity of the place and all of the wood and wondered if it had ever been replaced or if it was original. They had a big iron bell that the priest would clang with this big log. I remember being amazed by that because the priest would clap to get the attention of the gods, and I was thinking about Elijah and the prophets of Baal and "Shout louder, maybe he'll hear," something like that, but we serve the living God, but that's a sacred space for those people in Japan. In Boston, the oldest church I ever worshipped at was Park Street Church right on the Boston Commons. It's the oldest place of worship I've ever actively worshipped in. I've also walked through the Old North Church in Boston. That's the "one if by land, two if by sea" church for the night of Paul Revere's ride. I've stood in the church where John Calvin preached in Geneva and saw that, and it was just an amazing thing for me to be there.
Last summer, Calvin and I were at the Wittenberg church where Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses. It was under massive construction, it was a bit of a let-down. I remember seeing the cement mixers, and the chain link fence and all that and I wasn't feeling like it was much of a sacred space, but it's the oldest and I would say probably, the most famous Lutheran Church in the world. All of these sacred sites have moved me in different ways.
The only biblical place I've ever been to was Mars Hill. I got to climb up that little rocky outcropping there where the Apostle Paul preached his famous message in Acts 17, it's there printed in Greek in a plaque at the bottom. I remember being especially amazed at the top, because the tips of the rocks were all polished like glass. They were shiny like glass. No intention had gone into that, but just the feet of pilgrims over hundreds and hundreds of years, just polished it smooth. The oldest place, sacred space, I've ever been though was right near that. That was the Acropolis which was a shrine to the goddess Athena, the goddess of wisdom for which the city of Athens was named. It was built around the time of the Babylonian exile. It's the oldest place of worship that I've ever been to.
Now all of these sacred spaces, all of these places of worship, are as nothing compared to the heavenly shrine that we're going to be worshipping God at in all eternity. And the significance of the move in the new covenant from a sacred space where you go and where you worship, that one location where the temple was in Jerusalem, where all Israel would come three times a year and make that pilgrimage and go to that sacred space and worship there, that has been fulfilled, that imagery has all been fulfilled in Christ. We don't need to make those kinds of pilgrimages anymore. As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, "Woman, believe me, the time is coming where neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem shall you worship the Father. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." That unfolds the truth that we learned about God in the Old Testament, the words of the prophet, Jeremiah. Jeremiah 23:23-24, "‘Am I only a God nearby, declares the Lord, and not a God far away. Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’, declares the Lord. ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?”, declares the Lord." We worship an omnipresent God. We worship an immense God who fills Heaven and Earth, and there is no space that can contain God.
Stephen picked up on this theme, when he was proclaiming, effectively, the end of the animal sacrificial system, the end of the significance of the temple there in Jerusalem, he saw it clearly. They killed him for it. But he saw it clearly, and he said this in Acts 7:48-50, "The Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? Or where will my resting place be? Has my hand made all these things?’ And so they came into being." And as Paul said in that very spot that I mentioned earlier, in Acts 17, "The God who made the world and everything in it is Lord of heaven and earth, and he does not live in temples built by hands, and he is not served by human hands as if he needed anything, for he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else."
So we Christians in the New Covenant, we've come to understand the omnipresent God can and should be served everywhere at all times. Every square inch of the universe belongs to God, Almighty God. Every moment of time is his. Abraham Kuyper put it this way, "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence, over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine! Mine!’" And yet, for all of that, there is such a thing as holy ground in some mysterious way. God was every bit as omnipresent back in the old covenant as now, and yet he did say to Moses, "Take off your sandals, for the ground on which you're standing is holy ground."
So what is holy ground? What is a sacred space? It's a place where we can encounter the living God, where he's choosing to reveal himself. And we can have a relationship with him, and we can encounter him. So this morning what I want to do is I want to set apart the Christian workplace as a sacred space. A place where we can, indeed, where we must encounter the living God. I want to ennoble your work, I want you to see the value of your labor every moment, and to see that it's an act of worship if you do it by the power of the Spirit in obedience to the Word of God. You are able to offer up a living sacrifice, every moment in the workplace. Not only able but you must. So what that means is sacred space could be for you an office building, it could be a cubicle. It's hard to believe, isn't it? I've worked in cubicles multiple times. I had three different engineering jobs, after I graduated from MIT. I worked for a company that made ion implanters. If you want to know what that is, I'd be happy to tell you. Come after, say, "What's an implanter?" I'll tell you all about it. But I worked in a cubicle there, vertical carpet and all that, that was my sacred space. I also worked for a company that made eye surgical equipment and I worked for a company that made hot chocolate machines, so all different kinds of jobs. And it was my desire as a Christian to be filled with the Spirit every day as I went to the workplace. I wanted that place to be the focus of my ministry, I wanted it to be an evangelistic place, I wanted it to be a place where I could offer up to God my engineering work as a sacrifice. I didn't do it well every day, but that was my goal. So that could be your sacred space. It could be a surgical operating room, it could be a board room. Maybe you're an executive. It could be a counter at Chick-fil-A or McDonalds, if you can believe it. How could a place like that be sacred space? But it's all in the attitude you bring to the work you do. Holy ground.
Now here I'm trying to sweep away centuries of false teaching that we see in the Medieval Roman Catholic Church. They established a kind of a hierarchy of value, the holiness of work. And it was captured by fourth century Catholic historian, Eusebius. This is what this man said, "Two ways of life were given by the Law of Christ to his Church. The one is above nature and beyond common human living, holy and permanently separate from the common customary life of mankind. It, that pattern of life, devotes itself to the service of God alone." So, there you have the retreat from the world, the asceticism, the monks, the nuns, the clerics. They're separate from normal life, they're fasting, they're praying. It's a higher way of living. Such then is the perfect form of the Christian life. “And the other more humble, more human permits men to have minds for farming for trade, the other secular interests as well as for religion. And a kind of secondary grade of piety is attributed to them.”
We're sweeping all of that away today, that is completely false. Medieval Catholicism there had that hierarchy, there was the sacred and the profane, or secular. That's what profane meant, it's secular. So the sacred would be popes and cardinals and priests and monks and nuns and all that, and they lived a separate kind of life. And then profane, secular, would be everybody else, and they would do work as peasants, as farmers, as tradesmen, different work like that. Now Protestantism came along under Luther and the other reformers and it established what was there plainly in scripture, the priesthood of all believers. And Luther and others took that to the degree of looking again at work, at the work that we do. Martin Luther said this, "When a maid cooks and cleans and does other housework, because God's command is there, even such a small work must be praised as a service of God, far surpassing the holiness and asceticism of all monks and nuns.” Far surpassing, the work of a maid in cooking and cleaning. He also said this, "Seemingly secular works are a worship of God and an obedience well pleasing to God." And again Luther said, "Your work is a very sacred matter, God delights in it. And through it, he wants to bestow his blessing on you." Subsequent generations of Protestants, of teachers of the Word of God, wholeheartedly agreed. The Puritans came along and established this kind of teaching as well. William Tyndale said this, "If we look externally, there is a difference betwixt washing of dishes and preaching the Word of God. Externally, yes. But as touching to please God, no difference at all." William Perkins, another Puritan, said this, "The actions of a shepherd in keeping sheep is as good a work before God as is the action of a judge in giving a sentence or a magistrate in ruling or a minister in preaching."
So this morning, I just want to sweep away the idea of ‘secular work.’ By that, I mean secular, and we're seeing that in our increasingly atheistic culture. The word secular means religion-free, God-free, so that your work zone is a God-free zone. We're not bringing God into that. It's secular, it's a secular thing. Well, we Christians should never do that. There should never be secular work or that kind of worldly work, for the Christian view of work is that everything done by faith in Christ by the power of the Spirit for the Glory of God is sacred, no matter what your employment. So I want you to see your workplace as a place of worship where you must encounter the living God, where every action of your employment can be a living sacrifice offered to God.
Now look again at the text, if you would, and I want to make some comments about it. Ephesians 6:5-9, reading this time from the NIV, "Slaves obey your earthly masters with respect and fear and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them, not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly as if you are serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. And masters treat your slaves in the same way, do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their master and yours is in Heaven, and there is no favoritism with him."
Now, I want to just make an aside about where we're going in the preaching ministry in Ephesians. I'm well aware that in talking about employer-employee relationships from Ephesians 6:5-9 is making a bit of a leap of interpretation. The text doesn't say employer or employee, it says masters and slaves. So what I want to do this morning is I want to talk about work. If I could just sum up this sermon, it's about work.
Next week. I want to talk about slavery, and the following week I want to talk about racism. So those are the next three sermons. This morning, work, then slavery, then racism. I feel that these are helpful topics for us, and it will be increasingly helpful. Like next week's sermon, what I want to do is face square on the question, why isn't the New Testament clearly abolitionist? Why does Paul seek to manage slavery here rather than just abolish it? So I'm going to try to give the best answer I can. That being able to defend the Bible as a timeless and living document is going to be increasingly needed in our age. People will bring up slavery and talk about it, especially related to things like LGBT things. It's going to come up and they're going to say, "Look the Bible is clearly obsolete. Look at the topic of slavery."
So, hopefully next week I'm going to give you a way to answer any accusations against the Bible, and talk about why Paul doesn't clearly sweep aside slavery. And then the following week, I want to zero in on the phrase, "There is no favoritism," and just address some of the incredibly controversial and hot topics that have been going on this summer and just some of the heritage, the history, and how the Bible answers the issues of racism and where we can go from here. So those are the next three weeks, God willing.
I. Understanding Work Biblically
Greek’s Faulty View: Work as Punishment
Now, let's look at this morning at work and employment. And let's begin by just trying to understand work biblically. The Greeks, into which the culture Paul was writing, looked on work as a punishment. How many of you have ever done that? I look on work as a punishment. I've heard it, I've heard it said by those near and dear to me, people I cherish have looked at work as a punishment. Maybe it doesn't help that we sometimes use work as a punishment, maybe that's not helpful, I don't know, maybe not good parenting. But at any rate, the Greeks did see that. They looked at it this way, that work was a curse, the gods hated mankind and so they cursed us to work while they lay around and eat heavenly grapes and eat ambrosia and drink nectar all day long, whatever that is for them. That was their view. Work is a curse.
Even within that, they had a kind of a similar two-tier view of work that I described earlier. There it's not sacred and profane, but it was more intellectual and menial. They would divide it in that way. So Plato and Aristotle, and other philosophers promoted a two story concept of work, that the majority of men should do the heavy lifting, menial labor, that the minority like themselves might engage in higher intellectual pursuits like art and philosophy and politics. So that's the way the Greeks tended to divide up work.
God a Worker, Not an Idler
Now for us as Christians, we know right from the beginning of the Bible, our God is a worker, not an idler. And so, from the very first verse of the Bible, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth," and Genesis 1 pictures a very active creative God who creates the heavenly realms and separates the waters above from the waters below, and separates the sea from the dry land, and creates vegetation and creates the animals, and the birds of the air, and ultimately creates man in his image. So God is a hard working creative God and he delights in his labor, enjoys it, finds pleasure, and he looks over all that he's made and behold it's very good. So there's just a beautiful pleasure of God and work, and on the seventh day he rested from his work. So that's how the Bible begins.
Then Christ as he comes in, he teaches us some things about God's work that maybe we could have figured out, but that Christ told us in John 5:17 when they're accusing him of working on the Sabbath. Jesus said, "Actually, My Father's always working, to this very day, and I too am working." We come to realize theologically that if God ever stopped working, the universe would stop existing. God created a dependent universe that needs his energy and his work. It's not an independent thing, it needs God to work on it to keep it alive, keep it existing. So, he's always working.
Work in Eden: The Gift Given
And then God gave to Adam and Eve, to the human race, creative work to do. Genesis 1:26-28, "God blessed them, male and female, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth, subdue it, rule over it. Rule over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’" So here's this beautiful fresh perfect world waiting to be explored, waiting to be filled and subdued, whatever that means, but there's going to be this creative labor. And there are certain types of plants that could not spring up apart from human cultivation. And so, God gave us work to do and that was before the fall, dear friends. Genesis 2:15, "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to serve it and protect it, to work it and take care of it." And so work is a good gift from God. Our work is not a curse, rather our work has been cursed, and there's a world of difference between those two. Our work is not a curse, but our work has been cursed.
Work After the Fall: The Gift Cursed
And so in Genesis 3, we know what happened with Adam when he fell into sin, God cursed the ground because of him. And he said, "Through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life, it will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field, and by the sweat of your brow, you will eat your food until you return to the ground since from it you were taken, for dust you are and to dust you will return." So we are now laboring and struggling in futility, in cursed labor, to just scrap out an existence because of Adam's sin. And so the greatest curse of all on work is ultimately futility, emptiness, working on something that doesn't come to fruition, that in the end comes to nothing, that sinks back down into the dust.
Ecclesiastes 2:22-23 says, "What does a man get for all that toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun, what do we get for all that? All of his days, his work, his pain and grief. Even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless," and this repeated phrase, "a striving after wind," that's the curse on work, you're laboring on something that comes to nothing, dust in the wind. Now as the Bible unfolded after Adam's fall, there would continue to be inventiveness, creativity, people developed metallurgy, they developed different technologies, and the human race has advanced since then. But the work has always been a labor under Adam's curse.
Now, in the history of Israel, we know that they fell into bondage, into slavery, and how the Egyptians made their lives bitter with hard bondage and toil, and with the whip of the slave driver, and they worked them ruthlessly, Exodus 1:14. After the exodus, God regulated work in the Ten Commandments, he said, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, do all your work in six days and rest on the seventh, for God created the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh." So here work is commanded, labor for six days, but it's also limited. Rest on the seventh day as God did.
Christ’s Example: Glorifying the Father by Labor
Now Christ is the end of the world, he glorified labor. No one has ever been a better example of what I'm commending to you today than Jesus, namely finding joy and delight and relationship with God through your work. Nobody did that better than Jesus. Jesus said, as I already quoted, "My Father is always working and I too am working." In effect, Jesus plainly said "The only work that I do is the work the Father is doing." So, what the Father is doing, the Son joins the Father in it, and they work together. What a beautiful picture of work that is. He actually said at the time in John 4, the Samaritan woman, he said, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and finish his work." This is My food, it gives me energy, it gives me pleasure to do God's works. And he said at the end of his life, praying to the Father, "I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work You gave me to do." Jesus is our role model for work.
Work in the New Heaven and New Earth
Now as we go on, as we look ahead, you may wonder where are we heading, pastor? Where are we going with this work thing? Are we going to work in Heaven? What about the New Heaven and the New Earth? Will there be work there? Friends, I believe with all my heart there will be work in Heaven, but it won't be cursed. Think about all of the redeemed from every tribe and language and people and nation, remember what God said at the time of the Tower of Babel. If, as one people, speaking one language they've begun to do this, then nothing they propose to do will be restrained from them, they can achieve anything. Imagine though, instead of doing it to serve our own glory, like they did at the Tower of Babel. We would build and construct things in the New Heaven and New Earth for the glory of God to show our capabilities for his glory. And we will be like as one people speaking one language, building for the glory of God.
Now I'm going to talk more about this verse next week. But Revelation 22:3 supports what I'm saying, I think. It says in Revelation 22, the last chapter of the Bible, "No longer will there be any curse," amen. "The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and... " Listen, "his servants will serve him." So I'm going to talk more about that verse next week. We're going to work. No failed projects, no deadlines. How cool is that? We are going to labor and it's going to, it's going to work out, it's going to be successful. And what feeling of joy we'll have, not pride, but worship to God that he gave us these hands and these minds to be able to create things. That's what I think we're heading toward.
II. Paul’s Commands to Slaves: Serve Christ in Your Work
Basic Command: Obey Your Earthly Masters
Now, let's look more specifically at what Paul commands to slaves and then to masters. First, the basic command is, “obey your earthly masters.” What we're looking at today is a special category of work which is work done in submission to God-ordained authority. That's not all of the work. There's just some things we do on our own, the work we do around the house or whatever, but here we're talking about work done at the command of another person. So he gives commands to the one receiving the command, the slaves, and then he turns around and gives command to the one that gives the command by God-ordained authority, the masters. So we're looking at commands to the slaves, those in submission to God-ordained authority, and he's commanding obedience, "Slaves obey your earthly masters with respect and fear and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them, not only to win their favor, when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart, serve wholeheartedly as if you are serving the Lord, not men." So fundamental to Paul's doctrine here is the God-given right to command, that God delegates authority to creative beings, to people, and they have the right to give commands to others. That's foundational to human society.
The Workplace: Adding Context to the Command
So in the American workplace, in our workplace, it comes down to the boss' right to give work to the employees and the requirement for the Christian employee to do what they're told to do, that we see God in all of that. It is the boss' right to command within the boundaries of the work, and it is the employee's responsibility to obey. Now, obviously, we need to limit this as we've said before. The boss' right to command is not universal. The boss isn't God. Peter said, "We must obey God rather than you." he said that to an authority figure. As I said in a recent sermon in terms of submission to God-ordained authority, God-given authority can never command God forbidden activity. God-given authority can never command God-forbidden activity. So we are going to evaluate the commands given to us and be sure that that's not happening. But in every other respect, when an employee willingly and skillfully and cheerfully does everything commanded by the employer, it is glorifying to God. It's glorifying to God.
Now he says, obey your earthly masters, in the Greek it's “masters according to the flesh,” so he's kind of limiting. The implication is, they have a limited scope over you. They don't own your soul. So there's a limit there. And it also implies their authority over you is temporary, it's limited. There'll come a time, it'll be over. But in all of that, we should obey as if we were obeying Christ himself. Look at the text again, "Slaves obey your earthly masters with respect and fear and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ." Verse 6, "Obey them not only to win their favor, when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart." Verse 7, "Serve whole-heartedly as if you were serving the Lord. Not men.” He says it three times, "Just as you would obey Christ,” “slaves of Christ,” “as if you are serving the Lord." It's very plain. So the idea is to look beyond your earthly boss and see Jesus behind him or her.
Treat Your Employer/Employee as You Would Jesus
I think about this in the Hall of Faith in that great Hebrews 11 chapter, Hebrews 11:27, it says, "By faith Moses persevered... " listen, "as seeing him who is invisible." Hard to do sometimes. I've had some bosses that cast a looming shadow in front of Jesus, and you had to kind of look around and it was hard to see Jesus behind them. It was hard. But we have to do it, we have to do it. So when your boss tells you to do something, eminently reasonable and not immoral, within the job, but it crosses your flesh, annoys you in some way, that's a key moment for you, isn't it? That's a key moment. You should see it as something Christ himself were giving you to do.
For example, let's say you serve tables. And the owner tells you to bus someone else's table or do something else. It's not even in your area of the restaurant. And you're probably not going to get a tip from it, and you're probably not going to be thanked for it, but just do it. Key moment! Key moment in your walk with Christ. There's nothing immoral about the command, well within the purview. Well within the rights. Just do it, do it cheerfully, do it by faith, do it for the glory of God, don't expect any earthly reward, expect a heavenly reward.
Suppose you're a nurse and your supervisor tells you to take care of... And there are some of these I guess particularly irritable patients who only find fault with the nursing staff. God forbid, that any one of us should be one of those. Say, "Oh God, give me grace to be a good patient." I don't know what kind of patient I'll be. I think there are days I think I'm going to be one of those, I hope not though, I don't want to be an irritable patient. But you're the nurse, and you have to go take care of this. This is a thankless task. And the tendency is going to be to complain, not only about the patient but about the supervisor who constantly gives you the harder patients and all that kind of thing. It is endemic to the American workplace to complain against the boss.
Don’t Work Half-Heartedly
So we need a faith-filled demeanor, we need to do it, it says with respect and fear and sincerity of heart. Paul literally says with fear and trembling, there's a sense of God in all of this. I want to do this as unto “God the immortal, the invisible, the only wise God, I want to serve him who dwells in unapproachable light.” That's what I want to do, so I'm going to do it wholeheartedly too, every fiber of my being. I want to give to the Lord the best effort I can for his pleasure and his glory. It is so easy to be half-hearted in work to just get by, to cut corners, to skirt. I've seen it done, I've done it myself sadly from time to time. It's easy to mail it in 8:00-5:00, and then the clock turns 5:00, I'm gone. 5 o'clock and zero seconds. Look, I mean, I know the work day needs to end at some point, I'm not saying you gotta put the holy extra five minutes in. Pastor said I had to add five minutes, so I'm not leaving before 5:05. Look, that's legalism. That's not what I'm talking about, I'm saying, But look at your attitude. Is your attitude a minimalist, whatever it takes to check the box and get by attitude? That's what this text removes.
No, because that affects the way you do everything you do throughout the day. It also removes shoddy workmanship, shabby workmanship. You know what I'm talking about? Just cutting corners, doing the cheap thing. It's almost as though American workers these days are living for the weekend, they're living for recreation and entertainment and free time and hobbies, and work is some kind of an unwelcome interruption for the true purpose for which we were put here, and that's eat, drink and be merry. I think we've all experienced the frustration of shoddy workmanship in the home. In appliances, Christy and I have some stories to tell about a dishwasher. She'll tell you, she worked hard to replace our remarkably faulty dishwasher. I used to come, and I'd come down in the morning and it had this little error code on it, and I was like, "Oh God, give me strength." The one good thing about that appliance, it's the one you can kind of muddle through without. The washer and dryer, not so much. Kind of hard. But at any rate, just the frustration of the shoddy workmanship, the planned obsolescence. And the text says, "Not as eye service or man pleasers." It's like only when their eye is on you, you're going to behave at a much better level when they're watching you. When they go away, it's like this kind of thing, as soon as they turn, sticking out the tongue or something like that. I've seen it happen. Maybe not that childish but it's like the face. Oh, what was that? And they turn back. No, no, yes sir, no sir, I'll do it right away, sir. But smarmy and deceptive.
I remember years ago, I had a computer-based chess program that I used to play, it had a hotkey that immediately went over to spreadsheet, a fake spreadsheet. It was unbelievable, it was pathetic. And so you're like, you're playing chess at work, and then if your boss comes by, bang, there's this fake spreadsheet. Well, I hope your work has something to do with spreadsheets, because if not, you're fried. And if they take a close look at it, and it's doing nothing, it's just sitting there, it's like, oh man, that's a bad moment. Maybe I shouldn't talk about the bracket challenge and March Madness, but really productivity goes down at least in the state of North Carolina. The kinds of things that happen around that time and I guess it's all excusable, I suppose. Now the life of faith is living as seeing him who is invisible, not eye service, not man pleasers, saying, “I'm trying to offer my work to God.” “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
So what does this mean? Well, it means work fully, give 60 minutes of diligent labor for every hour of work, work honestly, don't steal from your employer. I said in the sermon on stealing, for Walmart and other retailers employee theft is a multi-billion dollar problem. Work, thirdly, skillfully. Develop your craft, get better and better at what you do. Work at it. Study it. How can I be better at X, a year from now than I am now? I'm not talking about making your job an idol and living for it. But I'm just saying be skillful. Fourthly, work wisely, use a high level of craftsmanship appropriate to every level. I remember there was a guy I worked with named Pete, he was a draftsman, a very good draftsman. Very immature, good comedian, did a great Elvis impression. I remember that. Boss came in seeing him do it. That was an awkward moment for Pete. But Pete made this elaborate drawing, that was back before we used computers, before we did CAD, this elaborate pencil drawing of an electronic connector, took him two and a half hours to draw it. It was like Michaelangelo had drawn it. It was spectacularly beautiful. The boss was rightly angry at the waste of time. That thing, there's a certain drafting protocol that it could have been drawn in 10 minutes.
So, just work wisely, work energetically, full energy. And I mean even an hour after lunch, I know it's hard. 2:30 in the afternoon, everyone's sleepy, but just say, "Lord give me strength. I want to work as unto You, I want to give a full day for You." Work respectfully, don't gossip or demean the boss. Don't talk behind his or her back. Don't tell jokes or demeaning stories. If other employees do, don't join in with it. Work thankfully, be obviously, clearly thankful you have a job. I mean just be thankful you live in this country, and that you have a job where your needs can be met like this. Be thankful. Thankful for every task you have to do, and work spiritually. Do it with a sense that your work is an act of worship to God.
Work to Make the Gospel Attractive
Now, in all of this, we want to make the Gospel attractive. Put the Gospel on display. I think the workplace can be one of the greatest places of evangelism there is in America. It's hard to know strangers in America these days. If you just start talking at the gas pump or the convenience store or whatever, if you're funny and interesting and don't ask for anything, they'll talk to you. But at the workplace now you can develop relationships, long-term relationships with non-Christians. I had a list of all of the people in the engineering department and I prayed for opportunities to share the Gospel with all of them, and God was faithful. I think I actually had good full Gospel opportunities with three-quarters of the engineers and the technicians that worked in that department. I went after it, I prayed for it, I was patient, I looked for opportunities. But the workplace can be a great place to make the Gospel attractive.
Remember the Day of Judgment
Well, all of this, we should be doing with an eye to Judgment Day, we should know, as it says in Verse 8, "The Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free." he's going to return to you by saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant." he's going to give you rewards. You don't need to be noticed by your boss. You don't need to do it so you can get a raise or get ahead. If that comes, that's a sidebar. What really matters is God was pleased with you today, he will reward you. And you're storing up treasure in Heaven every day by that kind of labor.
Masters Will Be Judged
Now let's talk to the masters. Verse 9, "Masters, treat your slaves in the same way, do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their master and yours is in Heaven, and there is no favoritism with him." So Paul connects the commands to the master, is what he just said, in the same way. In other words, "by faith, as seeing Jesus, as seeing the invisible one, please treat your slaves that way, knowing that Jesus is behind them, just like he's behind you." See Jesus, see Christ in those that report to you. Understand you have a master in Heaven named Christ, he sees everything you do, he will evaluate everything that you do. And he says, “do not threaten them,” or perhaps even literally give up threatening them. I just use a how much more argument. We're going to talk about slavery next week, but all the excesses of the chattel slavery system, how do they miss this command? Don't threaten them, but you can beat them. I could easily go into that whole topic now, I'll wait 'til next week. But clearly, the command here is don't deal with them having forgotten they're human and having forgotten perhaps they're redeemed by the blood of Christ. He's giving commands to Christian masters here. They are your brothers and sisters in Christ, equal to you in redemption and in reward in Heaven. Remember that. These are temporary roles we're playing here. So, keep looking at them by faith.
In 1853, Harriet Beecher Stowe published the second edition of her novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. And that was obviously a very clear depiction of the abuses of African people in American slave system. Well, that addition, the deluxe edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin was published with artistic renditions of many of the most poignant scenes in the book. In one of the drawings, the wicked master Simon Legree is beating Tom savagely, while Tom is praying and crying aloud to Jesus. And in the rendition Jesus is behind watching the beating though unseen by Simon Legree. So that's the idea, it's like you're being watched all the time. Everything you do is being seen by Jesus and he is the true King, the true master. And some day you're going to have to give him an account. You're going to stand before your Judge, and give him an account for everything you've done.
There is No Favoritism With God
And it says in Isaiah 11:3-5, speaking of Jesus, "he will not judge by what he sees with his eyes or decide by what he hears with his ears, but with justice and righteousness he will judge the needy and with justice, he will give decisions for the poor of the Earth. He will strike the Earth with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips, he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist." We are going to be called before the Judgment Seat of Christ. We're going to give an account for everything done in the body, whether good or bad. Masters need to keep that in mind. And so, practically, bosses should carry themselves humbly toward their employees, they should not think of themselves in any way superior to them. I've meditated on "There is no favoritism with God." It's not an easy phrase to understand biblically. But I think it at least means this: They are every bit as human as you are, every bit as accountable to the judgment seat of God as you are, every bit as rewardable as you are for your works, every bit as redeemable by faith in the blood of Christ. In that way there's no favoritism, everybody gets treated the same way.
So keep that in mind, supervisors should make sure the workplace is fair and equitable, in which employees have a chance to excel and grow and be developed and be rewarded for their labors. Supervisors should evaluate the performance of their workers with justice and equity and reward it. I was reading an article about Asian sweatshops in a region in the world where there's a surplus of unskilled labor, those unskilled laborers can be greatly taken advantage of, because they're immediately replaceable. And they are often greatly taken advantage of, unhealthy, unsafe working and conditions. Limited bathroom breaks. Some of these sweatshops eliminate all talking between employees during the work day. Companies like GAP, Liz Claiborn, a clothing line for which Kathy Lee Gifford was the spokeswoman. Nike, Walmart. All of these have come under criticism for using goods that were put together in these kinds of sweatshops.
Do Not Withhold Wages
The greatest injustice an employer can do toward an employee is to withhold appropriate compensation for the work. Wages, appropriate wages. So James 5:4 says, "Look, the wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty and he will judge." So the chance of injustice in wages is greater in an age of or an area of undocumented aliens. We were at a meeting yesterday, concerning ministry to refugees, undocumented aliens, and all that, same issue, same problem. The employer can know that the undocumented aliens are undocumented and therefore vulnerable and fragile and can be taken advantage of. That's wickedness, and God will call people to account if anyone does that. The implication is you should treat your slaves the way you want to be treated, and the way you will wish you had treated them on Judgment Day. Treat your employees that way.
So it says in Colossians 4:1, "Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a master in Heaven." What is right and fair? Wages for their labor. Respect and commendation for a job well done. And some day you're going to give an account to your master, and there's no favoritism with him. And we're going to talk more about that going forward.
Application, we just start by saying trust in Christ, trust in Christ, the ultimate worker for us is Jesus. His works and not yours, save your soul. We are justified by faith and not by our works, not by our career, not by our skills, not by our labor, we are justified by simple faith in Christ's work on the cross. His perfect obedience to his Father, his works save us, not ours.
So, I prayed at the beginning if God might have brought someone here who's unregenerate, you know that you're outside of Christ, trust in Christ, put your trust in him, and then having done that, you'll have a whole lifetime of good works that you can do for the glory of God, but not for the forgiveness of your sins, but to glorify him. And then, for all of you who are Christians, just offer up your work to him, offer up your works, the rest of your day, the rest of your week, offer up your labor to him as a fragrant offering, a sacrifice. If you're in a particularly challenging work environment, I've been in some, I had a boss that hated me and I think it was because I was a Christian. I came back from my honeymoon and we had a Bible study going, we had a bunch of things. This guy was an aggressive non-Christian, shut all that down, was a very difficult person to deal with. I've had those kinds of bosses. I'm not saying it's easy. But if you're able to imbibe the teaching here, God will give you grace to offer up a sacrifice that's pleasing. And get a big picture of your work, your career, all of that and see how God can use it for the building of Christ's kingdom. Let's close in prayer.
Father, we thank you for the time we've had to look at Ephesians 6:5-9, through the lens of the employer-employee relationship, Father. Help us to take the timeless principles that are here. They're still relevant, even though chattel slavery is now illegal all over the world, but yet these verses are not thereby obsolete, but that we can draw principles whereby we can work and give you glory. And Lord if you give us time next week to look at slavery and beyond that, at racism, give us grace to hear what you would say to us so that we can live beautiful fragrant lives here in this culture in an age that just so deeply clearly needs the teaching of the Word of God. In your name, Lord Jesus, we pray. Amen.